Common Questions About Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Losing a loved one is devastating under any circumstances, and the situation is even more difficult when the death was preventable. Loss of life due to negligence or an intentional decision to cause harm often becomes a criminal matter, but justice through the criminal courts doesn’t help families manage the financial impact of the negligent or deliberate actions of the person responsible. For example, families may lose household income critical to covering living expenses, and there are a variety of costs associated with medical care and funeral arrangements for the person who has died that must be paid.
The estate of the individual who has died has a right to sue the person responsible in civil court to recover some of the financial damages caused by the negligence or intentional choice to cause harm. This type of legal action is referred to as a wrongful death lawsuit.
These are some of the most common questions that clients have about wrongful death lawsuits:
When Might a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Be Appropriate?
There are four criteria that must be present in a wrongful death lawsuit. First, a person must have died. Second, the death was caused by another person’s negligence or another person’s deliberate choice to cause harm. Third, there are family members who were financially impacted by the death of their loved one. Fourth, the estate of the person who died has appointed a personal representative.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits must typically be filed by a representative of the estate of the person who has died on behalf of surviving family members. The specific family members who can pursue wrongful death claims vary from state to state. All states agree that the decedent’s spouse qualifies, and all states agree that parents of minor children who have died qualify. They also agree that minor children of parents who have died can pursue wrongful death claims. However, there is some variance between states when it comes to parents of adult children, siblings, grandparents, and other extended family members.
In California, if the deceased person does not have a spouse or children, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed on behalf of those "who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession." This could include parents or siblings. There may also be an opportunity for claims by stepchildren and parents who can show they were financially dependent on the person who has died.
What Sorts of Financial Damages Can Be Considered in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
While it is impossible to put a dollar amount on the loss of a loved one, for the purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit, the attorneys will calculate an amount based on the following factors:
Funeral and burial expenses
Medical bills related to the illness or injury that resulted in death
Income that the deceased person would have been likely to earn in the future
Value of household services provided by the person who died
In addition, family members who have lost a loved one may be able to claim financial damages for the loss of love, moral support, and guidance they would have received from that person if he or she had lived.
Do Wrongful Death Lawsuits Have to Be Filed in a Specific Time Frame?
If you believe that a wrongful death lawsuit might be appropriate, consult an experienced attorney right away. In California, these types of cases must be filed within two years of the date that the death occurred. After two years, it is not likely that you will be able to file a case at all.
Bates Law focuses on personal injury lawsuits, including wrongful death. Make an appointment for a consultation today by calling us at (619) 222-0900.
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